Reflecting on my first hackathon as a bootcamp grad and tips for new hackathon goers!
As I continue diving deeper into the dev world, I hit a milestone this past weekend and as the title of this post suggests, I attended my first hackathon. The thought of being considered a full fledged developer and working with other team members as one immediately set my imposture syndrome ablaze. My interest for a new kind of collaborative environment and need to continue learning won over (thankfully). On October 12, 2019, I participated in Love Ya Like A Sis Labs’ Women @ Work hackathon. LYLAS is an organization whose mission is to support and empower all women and was the host of this hackathon. SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t win, but I level up my teamwork skills, learned about gender disparities, and definitely upped my confidence in my ability to code.
The reason why 100+ New Yorkers gathered together at 8 AM on a crispy autumn Saturday was for one reason: to develop solutions that would help solve the problems women face in a workspace. Some of these issues can manifest themselves as unequal pay, lack of diversity and inclusion, or unaccessible care benefits and would make up the foundation of each teams projects.
For every dollar a White man earns, Black women are paid 62 cents, Native American women are paid 58 cents, Latinas paid just 54 cents, White, non-Hispanic women are paid 79 cents and Asian American women, 90 cents.
- National Partnership for Women & Families, 2019
As a woman of color, this was extremely disheartening to hear and instead of worrying about my level of expertise, I began working towards a solution that would help out someone who might be facing the same problems as I would and possibly let someone never experience it to begin with. Interestingly enough, our teams were carefully put together and were well balanced with people from various backgrounds and not just coders. I love working with people from different industry because I end up learning something new and ideas never go stale because we each view something from a different perspective. After becoming acquainted with each other, the hacking commenced!
Like all projects, they always begin with a good ole fashion brainstorming session. LYLAS led several teams in rapid fire idea discussion exercises. What started as 10 “how might we” questions became 3 questions. Following our new prompts, teams then drew up possible technical solutions for our new questions. By “drew”, I mean we drew crude stick figures in efforts to convey our ideas to our new teammates. My team gathered around one question: How can we make the salary conversation less “taboo”? At the end of it, my team, having the issue of gender pay gap, decided on creating a chat bot that would prep and teach women about salary negotiation and develop their communication skills by recognizing language and the inputs users gave. Easier said than done right?
After having a lengthy discussion about the “what” of our solution came the “how on earth are we going to build this in 6 hours” part. We decided that it would be best to divide up tasks amongst our 5 person team by data research, wireframes, pitch presentation, and a possible working demo. Our solution, Pratice Makes Paycheck, revolved around the idea that if women were given a space that wasn’t intimidating and were able to talk with our bot, this would build their confidence and knowledge with each session. Features would also include graduating from a bot, to possibly talking with other users/recruiters in various situations such as salary negotiation, mock interviews, and offers. I wanted to attempt at making this idea come to life and decided on making a frontend based web application with React that would implement a chat bot JS library called “React Simple Chat”. Time went by extremely fast and in between lunch breaks, networking convos, and devouring Annie’s Homegrown bunny gummies, I managed to have a simple hardcoded version of our idea.
Definitely Not the End: Tips 🔎
Was it worth going to a hackathon? A hundred times yes. Was I tired after it? I took an extremely long nap. Here are some major take aways at the end of my first hackathon:
- Don’t succumb to your imposture syndrome. You actually know a lot more than what you think you know. Give yourself props! Our view as developers comes in handy and is what brings to life the answers to problems.
- Speak your mind clearly and be respectful. Your new teammates may not get the inside jokes you shared with your bootcamp cohorts. In the midst of the initial brainstorming process, some voices may be heard loudly while others not enough. If you see that this is happening, don’t be afraid to take charge and help everyone be at the same pace.
- Document all your ideas down. I’m not kidding. There will be so many different pitches and side bars happening at the same time that it might sidetrack your team. You might be missing out or over look important information. Bust out the pen, paper, whiteboard, or whatever you need!
- What you are creating is a prototype for a pitch. Rome was not build in one day so the need to make sure everything is perfect and bug free is not the goal. You need something to present so keep your priorities in check.
- Rely on your teammates. Get to know your team because you might find similarities and beautiful differences that can make you guys a dynamic unstoppable force. Where you lack in something (cough data analysis cough) someone else might actually be pretty good at and can help further the process of your project.
- Remember WHY you are building what you’re building. I found myself nit picking API docs so much that when CEO of WAGER Cynthia Medina came over to ask me “how does this help solve the gender pay gap” I definitely drew a blank and had to take my head out of coding and look at my initial prompt. (Don’t worry, I made sure to redeem myself by answering her at a later time.)
The last one I didn’t include, but just in case you forgot: PLEASE TAKE BREAKS. Developers are people, not machines. Legs will get cramped up, eyes will strain, and throats will get dry. Give yourself 10 minutes every hour to refresh yourself. Hackathons are a wonderful place to collaborate and create projects that you wouldn’t be able to create by yourself especially in a couple hours. Although my first hackathon has come to an end, it certainly will not be the last!